School expands

Students returned to in-person learning at Zehnder Ranch Elementary School last month.

The Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD) plans to expand in-person classes to four days a week, starting on April 6. This change was announced March 31 to the press.

Elk Grove Unified’s recently reopened middle and high schools will have the four-day option on April 13.

“Our amazing team of more than 6,500 employees stepped forward and methodically tackled each barrier that stood in our way from reopening our schools for in-person learning,” EGUSD Superintendent Christopher Hoffman said in a press statement.

Schools will continue to use the “concurrent” learning model that has teachers simultaneously instruct students in classrooms as well as online students.

Classroom students will still attend school a few hours a day and later resume their classes online. Most of these students will also keep using laptop computers at their desks in the classroom.

Parents will still have the options of either having their children attend twice a week or they can keep them home to take online classes full time.

The district staff will spend the next few weeks changing classroom settings to allow more students at their 67 campuses. Districts officials said that Elk Grove Unified has about 2,700 classrooms.

“When it comes to making any modification to a classroom, we don’t just do that once, we do it 2,700 times,” Hoffman said.

Under the district’s COVID-19 safety plan, schools are supplying face coverings to students and offering hand sanitation stations in classrooms.

In March 2020, Elk Grove Unified was one of California’s earliest K-12 school districts to close all of their campuses in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. More than 63,000 students then continued their education later that spring by taking online classes or other forms of distance learning.

One year later, district officials moved to begin reopening campuses for in-person learning after state health officials changed their campus safety guidelines. Sacramento County last month moved to the state’s less restrictive Red Tier 2 status after its COVID-19 case rate fell below 10 new cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Elk Grove School Board President Beth Albiani told the Citizen that the district’s move for a new four-day schedule was prompted by feedback from students who wanted to return to campuses, and the recent changes to COVID-19 safety guidelines. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that students can be safely seated three feet apart, instead of six feet, as long as they wear masks in the classroom.

“We have always felt an intentional rollout of school openings would build confidence in the safety plans and processes – allowing us to adjust week by week if needed,” Albiani said.

The four-day plan was first announced in a community newsletter that the district posted online on March 26. That week, the Elk Grove school board did not address that new in-person learning option during their March 23 session.

Albiani said that the four-day plan was not on the board’s meeting agenda since the district staff was still gathering information to see if they could make successfully make that plan happen.  

“We will continue to look for ways to expand our students’ opportunities safely,” she said. “Community health is such an important factor in the guidelines and we appreciate the support from our whole community that allows these types of progress for our students.”

District spokesperson Xanthi Soriano said that Elk Grove Unified’s labor agreement with the Elk Grove Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, allows adjustments if the health guidelines change.

Parent coalition still pushes for full-time classroom learning

For the past several months, parents, students, and other community members called upon Elk Grove Unified officials to restore full-time classroom instruction at schools.

The EGUSD Parent Coalition held demonstrations this winter to protest the district’s distance learning model. They said that students have long struggled with academic and mental health problems in addition to technical issues in taking online classes.   

Erin Somers, a co-founder of the coalition, told the Citizen that they still advocate returning students to schools for five days a week and without shortened hours.  She noted that the district’s new four-day school plan does not address student transportation.

“Without transportation provided, this four-day model continues to exclude families who have children that need transportation,” Somers said. “And because of the shortened hours, logistically it creates a few barriers for the families that now have this model.”

She also mentioned that the Lodi Unified School District has a plan to return students to full in-person instruction, five days a week, later this month.

“There is absolutely no reason our district cannot provide the same to 63,000 students,” Somers said. “We call on the Elk Grove Unified School District to the right and equitable action in changing their model from a concurrent one that leaves out many students and parents to opt into - due to lack of childcare, shortened school schedule, technical issues in the classroom, (and) lack of transportation - to one that can benefit the majority of its district: a full five-day-a-week, full hourly schedule.”